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Bradford's former British champion Bobby Vanzie knuckles down to action again

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THE first thing that strikes you is the fuller face and features.

Bradford’s former British lightweight boxing champion is no longer, ahem, light.

But 12 years after stepping out of the ring, Bobby Vanzie has that glint in his eye again.

Now 42, he has signed a 12-month contract with UBBAD bare-knuckle boxing.

“It’s not Brad Pitt and Fight Club,” he smiled. “We’re not fighting in headlights in car parks, this is all above board and properly sanctioned.”

From 1999 to 2003, Vanzie owned the Lonsdale belt at 9st 9lb. He currently tips the scales at just over 15 but that is already two stone down thanks to a regular walking regime near to his Saltaire home.

He will shed more before his first scheduled fight in Coventry on January 28. Vanzie is tackling this new challenge full on.

But then the Viper, as he was known for that slithering corkscrew punch, never did anything by halves.

He walked out on boxing at 31, disillusioned with the politics and the violence which he argued went against his Jehovah’s Witness principles. But the fight bug never went away.

“I’ve had this wrestling within me between boxing and the truth,” he said. “I fought it for six or seven years but it was too strong.

“A lot of people could live a double life but not me. That’s why I extricated myself from the religion.

“I fell into a bit of bother, like a lot of ex-fighters do, and I didn’t think I was being a great advertisement for the truth.

“I still believe in my faith and in the Jehovah’s Witnesses but I couldn’t look in the mirror and say that I was living the life of a true Christian.

“There wasn’t a closure on the boxing because I retired prematurely. I still had that yearning to fight.”

Vanzie’s bitterness with the boxing establishment still resonates. He feels he was held back because his face did not fit.

British champion in his 12th fight, he was denied the bigger pay-days he thought his talent warranted.

While recalling the great nights against Steve Murray, Stephen Smith and Anthony Maynard, he can just as readily reel off those fights that never happened like Billy Schwer, Michael Ayres and Colin Dunn.

“I shouted them out all the time in this paper but they didn’t want to know. It was like I was the chairman of the ‘who needs him’ club.

“I was British champion for so long and I feel like they just wanted a new face.”

Three times he prepared to fight Sandro Casamonica for the European title. Three times the Italian pulled out.

“Eventually somebody else stepped in (Jason Cook) and got my shot and knocked the guy out.

“All these things were contributing factors. I had so many voices in my head screaming for me to retire.”

Things came to a head after losing his domestic belt to Graham Earl and a controversial rematch when a flash knockdown was never counted in the scoring.

“Had it just gone on ability, I’ve no doubt I would have been a world champion. That’s all I wanted since I was eight.

“I wanted to follow in Marvin Hagler’s footsteps and trained like a monster for every fight. I just believe I wasn’t given the opportunities I should have been and I lost a bit of love for the sport.”

The past decade has not been easy for Vanzie. A short spell in prison was followed by a month in the psychiatric care unit at Lynfield Mount Hospital.

He takes eight tablets a day to manage the bipolar disorder that was diagnosed in 2003.

There were still requests to train other boxers but Vanzie was worried they would not match his own work ethic. Instead he went along to a couple of bare-knuckle contests with Frank Bruno.

The emerging pro sport peaked his interest; so much so that he penned a contract to “dip his toes in the water”.

Fights are condensed to three rounds of two-and-a-half minutes, increasing to five rounds for titles.

But Vanzie will prepare as fiercely as he did in his prime.

“I have a blank canvas now, the weight’s coming off and I can start to build the muscle and the speed.

“I’m not going to be the whippet I used to be. But I won’t be changing my style.

“By the time the fight comes, I’ll be as fit as a butcher’s dog.”


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